News, Nuggets & Longreads 4 February 2017: Lexicography, St Louis, Ateliers

Here’s all the beer and pub writing that grabbed our attention in the past seven days from different ways to say you’re bladdered to mysteries of the American palate.

First, for the BBC’s culture pages, lexicographer and broadcaster Susie Dent considers the 3,000 words in the English language to describe being drunk:

The concoctions those knights dispensed fill an even richer lexicon, veering from the euphemistic ‘tiger’s milk’ to the blatant invitation of ‘strip-me-naked’. Add those to the 3,000 words English currently holds for the state of being drunk (including ‘ramsquaddled’, ‘obfusticated’, ‘tight as a tick’, and the curious ‘been too free with Sir Richard’) and you’ll find that the only subjects that fill the pages of English slang more are money and sex.

(But has she quite got that bit on Bride-ale right?)


Barmen pouring IPAs.
SOURCE: Jeff Alworth/Beervana

These next two posts need to be read as one piece. First, Jeff Alworth argues — persuasively, we think — that the reason IPAs are so dominant in US craft beer is because it’s the first beer style Americans can really call their own, like jazz and comic books:

Americans are finding their palates, which is a sign of maturity. This is not a new point here at the blog, but it’s becoming more pointed. When a country develops its own beer culture, diversity declines. This is why Belgian and British ales don’t taste the same, nor Czech and German lagers. Americans have found their groove, and it is lined with the residue of sticky yellow lupulin.

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News, Nuggets & Longreads 5 November 2016: ‘Chavs’, Antics and Dirty Tricks

Oof, it’s a big one today, taking in everything from sabotage anti-marketing to the origins of Gold Label barley wine.

John Holmes of the Sheffield Alcohol Research Group has written on his private blog about the troubling implications of an updated take on Hogarth’s ‘Gin Lane’:

The modern pastiche gives us an obese mother, mouth wide open, burger in one hand and phone in the other while her baby shares her chips. The baby is in a onesie with ears while the mother is dressed in leopard-print leggings and a top so small that only anatomically-dubious drawing protects her decency. In combination, these stylistic choices seem designed to define the woman as, for want of a better word, a ‘chav’ and it is hard to escape the sense that we are intended to both judge and blame her for being in a disgusting state and, worse, for inflicting the same destiny on her young child.


Detail from Bourbon County label.
SOURCE: Goose Island, via Chicago Tribune.

Josh Noel at the Chicago Tribune, author of a book about Goose Island brewery, wasn’t satisfied with the vagueness around the origin date of Bourbon County Stout and did some digging which proved that breweries are often the worst sources when it comes to their own histories:

Legend says that the industry’s first stout aged in a bourbon barrel was initially tapped in 1992, at Goose Island’s Clybourn Avenue brewpub… Even the bottles say it, right there in the brown glass, between the words BOURBON and COUNTY — ‘Since 1992.’… But on the eve of this year’s release, I’ve concluded that there’s almost no chance that Bourbon County Stout came into this world in 1992. Dozens of interviews and hours of research point to the first keg of Bourbon County Stout being tapped in 1995.


The Ravensbourne Arms.

London-based pub group Antic is fascinating and weirdly opaque — we’ve never managed to get them to respond to queries by email or Tweet for starters. For 853, a website about local issues in South East London, Darryl writes about their weird antics (heh) with regard to the Ravensbourne Arms in Lewisham and how the collapse of local journalism has removed a key element of scrutiny:

Lewisham Council granted planning permission for flats above the Ravensbourne Arms as well as development of surrounding land twice, in 2014 and August 2015… The applications don’t mention the pub itself, but this should have rung alarm bells. Housing above pubs can be a way of securing the future of a venue (the new Catford Bridge Tavern will have flats above it). But such developments are also a very good way for developers to shut down the pub itself – these are cases that demand vigilance… The applicant was given as “Antic London”. There is no company of this name registered at Companies House in the UK, nor in Jersey, Guernsey or the Isle of Man.

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Magical Mystery Pour #10: Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale

The second beer chosen for us by The Beer Nut (@thebeernut) is Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale (7% ABV) from Michigan, USA. We bought it from Beer Gonzo at £3.70 per 330ml bottle.

Magical Mystery Pour logo.We were vaguely aware of having heard of this beer but pointedly didn’t look it up before tasting to avoid skewing our judgement any more than necessary.

On opening the bottle, we were treated to a wonderful fruity, flowery aroma, like something on the air in an sub-tropical ornamental garden. It looked beautiful in the glass, glowing orange with a rock-steady head of whipped-white foam. Altogether appetising.

The head on a glass of beer.

The first taste elicited involuntary expressions of delight: Ooo, cor, blimey, phwoar! Which we guess answers the fundamental binary question about whether we liked it or not. It took us back to a decade ago, experiencing absolute delight as we tried one American IPA after another at The Rake in London’s Borough Market, marvelling at beers that seemed heavier, richer, sweeter, more bitter and more intense than anything we could find on draught in our local pub.

Close-up the aroma suggested not flowers and fresh fruit but pipe tobacco and boiling marmalade. There was something old-fashioned about the whole package, which brought to mind a historical recreation we’ve enjoyed a lot on more than one occasion, Cluster’s Last Stand.

The bitterness seemed high compared to some similar beers we’ve had, a sort of drying blast over the tongue at the end of each dip, but it conveyed a sense of solid maturity rather than showboating X-TREME-ness.

Another beer that we thought of was Fuller’s Vintage Ale — an odd leap, perhaps, but there you go — which led us to a conclusion: Two-Hearted is like an English bitter boiled down to concentrate. We know that Gary Gillman (blogger and sometimes commenter here) and Nick (mostly on Twitter) are in the habit of letting down packaged beer to recreate the effect of cask ale so decided to follow their lead and dilute a sample of Two-Hearted 50/50 with tap water. This was revelatory, even though it didn’t taste great in its own right: reduced in intensity, it did indeed resemble, say, Young’s Bitter, or Harvey’s Armada IPA.

We were very impressed with this beer and would drink it again. It’s not cheap but it’s not outrageously expensive either and we couldn’t think of many British beers that provide this particular kind of jammy, chewy, juiciness at a lower price. (Suggestions welcome, of course, but think orange, marmalade and toffee rather than mango Champagne.)

Tasting done, we looked it up, and found felt slightly embarrassed not to have tried it before: it’s regarded as a classic by many and (obviously) some people think it is over-hyped. It’s rated as world class by Beer Advocate (disclosure: we’ve done paid work for BA magazine) and has a perfect 100 high score on RateBeer.

Reviews on both sites talk about pineapple, mango, citrus, passion fruit, pine and all that American-hop baggage, none of which we picked up — it’s as if they were describing a different beer. That made us wonder if the journey across the Atlantic, perhaps via mainland Europe, and six months in the bottle (ours was packaged in January) had taken the edges off this apparently legendary beer in a way that just happened to really work for us.

Yes, that’s right: our new favourite beer style is Staled Warehouse IPA™.

Pleasingly, The Beer Nut’s own tasting notes from 2011 seem to match ours. (This is a strangely rare occurrence.)

Consistency, Quality, Conspiracy

At the end of 2015 American consumers began to complain that bottles of Goose Island Bourbon County Coffee Stout and Bourbon County Barleywine didn’t taste right, and were ‘gushing’ — that is, exploding out of the bottle on opening.

The brewery recalled the lot and began an investigation. Now, six months on, the brewery has revealed its findings: there was an infection of Lactobacillus acetotolerans.

We hadn’t been following this story particularly but when Tom Cizauskas Tweeted about it, it caught our attention. First, it prompted us to think, ‘Huh… Isn’t the idea that when breweries get taken over by AB-InBev their quality control is meant to get better, their beer more consistent?’ (It’s a standard component of the ‘I’m glad about this take-over’ stance.)

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Magical Mystery Pour #5: Ruhstaller’s Gilt Edge

Magical Mystery Pour logo.We asked noted beer writer Joe Stange (@Thirsty_Pilgrim) to select our second batch of Magical Mystery Pour beers and he said yes. Well, actually, he said:

  1. “Oh I like this. It’s like your friends actually letting you play DJ at a party.”
  2. “You know, it’s very tempting to troll you with the six worst beers I can think of.”

But, after further consideration, he decided on an entirely different theme: lager. Specifically, he chose a mix of Belgian, German and American beers, some that he knows well, others about which he is curious, all of which we then purchased with our own cash from Beers of Europe.

First, we tackled Ruhstaller’s Gilt Edge, a 4.8% ABV, vaguely-heritage-y California golden lager. Joe hasn’t tried it but says:

This one comes all the way from Sacramento at 42 IBU. I hope it’s drinkable. The labels on these revivalist American lagers remind me of current generational tilts toward things like beard oil and cowboy rye whiskey. I expect a barber shop quarter to appear when you drink this.

It came in a 330ml can that cost £3.49 — not an outrageous price but not cheap either, especially for what you might call a basic beer style.

Initial impressions, even before opening the can, were mixed: on the one hand, the label was glued to the can which, with UK beers, we have tended to regard as a bad sign. On the other, we’ve rarely seen more informative blurb:

Labelling on Ruhstaller's can: hops, barley, etc.

There doesn’t seem to be anything to hide here which is reassuring, even if we don’t actually have any idea whether those are particularly great varieties of barley, or if these farms are anything special.

After pouring, we could but marvel: it looked so pretty. The head was as stiff as beaten egg-whites and the body of the beer, pale gold, almost seemed to give off a light of its own. (Although, to be fair, this is also true of, say, Stella Artois.)

Ruhstaller's in the glass on a beer mat.

The aroma was restrained — just an appetising wisp of herbs and citrus peel.

The flavour had a few stages: first, that crusty bread savoury-sweetness we associate with decent German beers, then a brief appearance from that twist of citrus, followed by — oh, blimey! — a crushing monster truck of unchecked bitterness. The first few sips were almost challenging, tipping way over from crisp into harsh. But the more we drank, the less that bothered us. Our palates adjusted to this new reality, just as the shock-inducing cold plunge at a spa gets to be fun after a while. We began to think that, yes, we’d like a few more of these in for the kind of hot day we’re sure is on the way, when the back of the throat demands something with real bite.

It’s typically American (if we can indulge in some stereotyping) in its boldness and frankness, but that doesn’t mean it’s unsubtle or silly. There are no grapefruits here.

If you think lager is bland, or you think Jever and Pilsner Urquell aren’t the beers they used to be, give this a try. It might just be the jolt you need.